Gus Malzahn now has the Auburn Tigers somewhere they haven't been since 2010—the Top 10 of the BCS standings. The 2013 season continues to look like one to remember for Auburn. The Tigers have come a long way.
When Auburn beat Mississippi State on September 14, they matched their win total from 2012. Auburn's eighth win of this season—a 35–17 victory at Arkansas—gave the Tigers as many wins in 2013 as they scored in 2011. The question now is whether the Tigers can win as many games this season as they did in the last two seasons combined.
Auburn's success in 2013 is, of course, a great tribute to this year's team and coaching staff, but it also tells us a couple things about 2012. Really, it tells the rest of the college football world two things the Auburn Family already knew.
Firstly, the 2012 team wasn't nearly as bad as the 2012 season. Auburn did not experience large-scale personnel turnover from last year to this year. Many of the players winning on the field in 2013 are the same ones who struggled to find three wins in 2012. Last season remains inexplicably bad, but the 2013 season is the better representation of even the 2012 team's talent.
Secondly, while 2012 was a lost season, Auburn football was never a lost program. ESPN and Selena Roberts promoted the idea that Auburn's program had foundational, systemic problems. Auburn responded to the specific allegations by ESPN (Auburn statement) and Roberts (Auburn statement). The best response, however, to the overarching criticism of the allegations—that is, that Auburn's program was falling from within—is the product on the field.
Shaun Assael of ESPN The Magazine (cited above) says, "But more than wins and losses, Malzahn's job now is to try to stabilize the fragile foundation of a reeling program." If Auburn was 5–4 right now, still trying to play their way into a bowl game, we could say Auburn's improvement from 2012 to 2013 is attributable simply to the enthusiasm and fresh approach of a new coaching staff.
Because the Tigers are 8–1, however, part of the answer to the question of how Auburn has turned things around is that the foundation was never fragile—the program was never reeling.
To the contrary, as stated above, the 2012 season was worse than the 2012 team; it was also much worse that the state of the program. Just how much better 2013 is going to be over last year's disappointment will be decided over the next four (possibly five) games.
Josh Dowdy is a correspondent for Bleacher Report and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.